Friday, August 15, 2008

Into the World--Abstract and Prologue


Abstract and Prologue

Chapter One: Nietzsche’s Challenge
Chapter Two: The Layered Gospel Context
Chapter Three: Today’s Warring Intellectual Context
Chapter Four: A Perpetual Warring Intellectual Context
Chapter Five: A Primer—The Bible’s Broadest Theme
Chapter Six: The Voice of Conscience
Chapter Seven: The Voice of God as the Passion Event
Chapter Eight: Tillich’s Challenge

Chapter Nine: Hypothesizing the Cross as Supreme Answer
Chapter Ten: A Challenge from Enlightened Self-Interest
Chapter Eleven: A Challenge from Kantian Autonomy
Chapter Twelve: The View from James’ Radical Question
Chapter Thirteen: The View from Sartre’s Bad Faith
Chapter Fourteen: Kierkegaard’s Challenge to Intelligibility


Concerning Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” Scripture as a whole is silent at a philosophical level.That categorical silence seems scandalous, since Jesus’ metaphysical claim to have come “into the world to testify to the truth” prompted the question. Analysis of the full biblical context, however, reveals the opposite: The passion story does in fact portray an answer to Pilate’s question, as well as to what William James called “the radical question of life.” Part One focuses mainly on the biblical context. Part Two provides a conceptual context to frame the biblical.

At the base of the highest mountain in Colorado there used to be a notebook in which hikers put their names and times of departure for the peak. It also had a comment section where, the day that I entered my name in the book, a wit had scribed “Too steep!” This book started out as an attempt to write an intellectually sound account of Christian faith for my son, one that I hoped would not be too difficult. I soon realized, however, that “intellectually sound” and “difficult” tend to go together in the same way that “mountain” and “steep” do. I, at least, could not produce a compelling view of faith without requiring my reader to surmount some difficulties. In place of an easy account of Christian faith, I can only hope to substitute one that will provide intellectual adventure and mind-expanding vistas for the reader. To reach the point where faith can be seen to play its defining role in human life, I think, is a summit worthy of some effort.

But be advised: A faith that does not engage doubt does not engage humanity’s core existential question, namely, “Is there a best or right way to understand our humanity?” In coming to see that faith plays a defining role in human life, it will become clear that the polemical line between faith and skepticism runs right through the human heart, rendering any one-sided view of faith meaningless without its counterpart: there can be no mountain without an accompanying lowland. That is, the point of faith—its “peak”—emerges from doubt. Those who treat doubt as the opposite of faith, instead of its origin, will not see faith’s core meaning.

Upon hearing me explain that I decided not to go to seminary because I had too many unresolved questions, a pastor friend recently replied, “I was too smart to get tangled up with those questions.” We both let the foot-in-mouth remark pass, as was appropriate in friendly conversation. Yet it illustrates an all too common attitude that this little book seeks to challenge and set right: that faith and skepticism are antonyms. This little monograph confronts Christian anti-intellectualism by illustrating that skepticism at its greatest depth leads to an understanding of faith at its greatest height. Accordingly, I have placed the most trenchant criticism of Christian faith that I know of at the beginning of this little book: Nietzsche’s comment on the exchange between Jesus and Pilate in The Gospel According to John—the exchange which led to Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?”

Enjoy the climb.


Plessey said...

Will this series be a repeat of what you posted on Experimental Theology (

It looks slightly modified.
Thank you for doing it.

Tracy Witham said...

Hi Plessey,

Pretty much, it will be a repeat.

I plan to add one chapter and make a few modifications as well. The main reasons for the repeat is to allow Richard to delete my material from his Experimental Theology blog and have it available to readers of mine.

I'm really busy till the snow flies here in Minnesota, so it also helps fill in the time till then.

I'm always so pleased to see someone is reading.